Malay Cuisine in Singapore

Category: Food Heritage

In Singapore, Malay cuisine is made and consumed by the Malay community as well as the larger Singaporean society. In the past, many Malays were seafaring people and their diet usually included a huge amount of seafood like squid, prawn and especially fish. These ingredients are still typically found in Malay cuisine today, and meats such as chicken, beef and mutton have also become common in Malay cooking, with the exception of pork as the consumption of pork is forbidden for Muslims.

Haji Shaikh Vali Ahmad, offering Malay cuisine in SingaporeHaji Shaikh Vali Ahmad, offering Malay cuisine in Singapore. Source:

Malay cuisine has assimilated influences from other communities and cultures in terms of both ingredients and culinary techniques. There is diversity in the cuisine due to the mixture of foods from the wider Malay world, and the blend of traditional dishes from Malaysia with strong influences from the islands of Sumatra and Java.

For instance, the popular meal nasi padang (rice served with various pre-cooked dishes) is imported from Padang in West Sumatra, Indonesia. In modern times, Malay cuisine has also been influenced by and incorporated ingredients from diverse ethnic communities in the region.

Malay cuisine is typically served with rice and an accompaniment of dishes which are usually served at the same time. These dishes can be loosely categorised as masak cili/lada (chilli-based), masak lemak (coconut based), masak asam (tamarind-based), masak merah (tomato based), masak hitam (dark soy-sauce) and masak kunyit (turmeric based). They are often spicy and primarily halal as the majority of Malays are Muslims.

The recipes of Malay cuisine are usually passed down from generation to generation, and it is common for modifications to be made to the recipes to suit individual taste. Traditional Malay food often involve the cooking of ingredients over low heat for a long time and this was the preferred mode of cooking back in the kampong days.

A key ingredient in Malay cuisine is rempah (a spice paste), which is made by pounding together several ingredients such as shallots, chillies, ginger and/or garlic and then sautéing the paste in oil. Other common ingredients include belacan (shrimp paste), santan (coconut milk), and asam jawa (tamarind).

As part of traditional customs, Malays would usually consume their food without cutlery, and they would scoop the food using only the fingers of their clean right hand while keeping their palm clean.

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